Boudreaux and Thibodeaux got into a rather heated conversation over religion, so at one point, Boudreaux says to Thibs, “If you are so religious, let’s hear you quote the Lord’s Prayer. I’ll bet you ten bucks you can’t,” he added, fishing a ten dollar bill out of his wallet. Thibs said, “You’re on.” And after putting on his thinking cap and staring up to heaven for several seconds, he began, “Now I lay my down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my soul, to keep. And If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Boudreaux handed the ten dollars to Thibs and said, “Wow! I didn’t think you could do it!”
Last week, I shared a quote from Thomas Merton from No Man is an Island: “We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but balance, order, rhythm, and harmony. Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it: without the alternation of sound and silence, there would be no rhythm.” (p.134) The idea was to provide our souls the opportunity to catch up in the midst of our busy lives. To find that silent space between the notes of our lives to discover God’s peace. However, being alone and silent does not come easy to us.
I remember being a kid and having a hard time sitting still. Like most kids, I had a lot of energy that needed to be in motion, so time and time again, I heard the words, “Stop fidgeting!” Ever heard or said it? Most likely, yes. We all fidget, but when we get a bit older, we’re not allowed to sit in a meeting with a fidget wheel while the boss is speaking, so we learn to control those fidgets or at least make them less distracting to others. Take a newscaster, for example, I don’t know about FOX and CNN, but if you watch a more ‘normal’ newscaster, you will most often see them holding a pen or a stack of papers. Either that, or they’ll have their hands clasped together in front of them. Remember Johnny Carson? What did he have? Yep. His pencils with an eraser on both ends. He might drum out the occasional beat with one, but mostly he just held it. It gave his hands something to do, just like holding a pen or paper gives the newscasters something to do with their own, so they don’t fidget about. Whether consciously or subconsciously, most learn to stop fidgeting, but that does not mean the impulse or desire is gone—only controlled. Our lives are the same way, there may be times of silence, but our minds are still fidgeting. The being alone and the silence does not come easy to us. We may have learned to control the external noise we make, but our minds are still ‘fidgeting’ away.
There are probably many contributing factors to the mental fidgeting. Still, at the heart of them all, we can discover a central theme: fear, derived from equating solitude and silence with loneliness and boredom.
We are, by nature, social creatures. Not many live as hermits, so we come together, for good or for worse, in larger and larger communities. When we find ourselves outside of community, then we become anxious. There’s no one around, no one to talk to, nothing to do, and no one to do it with, so our minds begin to fidget, trying to fill the silence and solitude. When our minds fail, we try and distract ourselves with activities that may not always be good or healthy, but it is all because of that fear of being alone and bored. We become fearful, and in our fear, we forget the nearness of God. We say we are alone, but how can we be alone if we are friends with God? We say we are bored, but how can you be bored when we have access to the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth? Perhaps the solitude and silence, that space between the musical notes, doesn’t need to be filled with our fidgeting; maybe they are only wasted opportunities to be with God? If so, how do we take advantage of the silence and solitude instead of seeing them as a negative?
Maybe I’ve shared this with you before: the study of spirituality and prayer is known as Ascetical Theology, and when I was in seminary, Bishop Parsons was my Ascetical Theology professor. He told us that the number one thing our congregations would want from us, whether articulated or not, was precisely what the disciples asked of Jesus today: “Lord, teach us to pray.” Lord, we see you in such deep prayer, how important it is even for the Son of God to be in ‘community’ with the Father through prayer, and we want to know how to do that so that we can have it too. “Lord, teach us to pray.” In response, Jesus gave them the words to say, but before doing that, he modeled it for them. What was the model?
Mark 1:35—“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
Luke 5:16—“[Jesus] would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”
There are many other examples of Jesus retreating to a solitary place and praying. Jesus did not avoid the solitude and silence. He sought it out. What did Jesus do when he saw the busyness of life, the fidgeting of minds, begin to wear on the disciples?
Mark 6:31-32—Jesus said to the disciples, “‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.” Jesus said, Come away with me to a place of solitude and silence so that we can have community—or maybe a better way to say it—so that we can have communion.
We can see times of solitude and silence as times of loneliness and boredom, but what if we began understanding them as opportunities to have communion with God. Not just a time of prayer where we lay out the “Honey Do” list for God, but a time of companionship and friendship with Jesus.
The Syrian monk, Isaac of Nineveh (he lived in the 7th century), wrote, “More than all things, love silence; it brings you a fruit that tongue[/speaking] cannot describe. In the beginning, we have to force ourselves to be silent. But then there is born something that draws us to silence… If you only practice this, untold light will dawn on you in consequence. After a while, a certain sweetness is born in the heart of this exercise, and the body is drawn almost by force to remain in silence.”
What does the Psalmist say:
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
Our minds push us into thoughts of loneliness and boredom, but our souls are crying out for times of solitude and silence where we might stop all the mental fidgeting and enter into communion with our God. When, through practice, you enter into that place, you can begin to speak, not with your lips, but from your soul, “Our Father, who art in heaven….” And, when you speak, it won’t just be you simply reciting something you’ve memorized. It will be you having a conversation with the One you love, and there will be nothing lonely or boring about it.
Let us pray together:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
2 Replies to “Sermon: Proper 12 RCL C – “Loneliness and Boredom?””
Another good post sir! I always enjoy reading these!